Editor’s note: We welcome in contributor Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country — our sister site covering the Jacksonville Jaguars— for “Five questions with the enemy” as we head into the Week 1 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jaguars set to take place Sunday at Noon.
1) How much confidence has QB Nick Foles given the fan base in the potential for 2019? How did he look in limited snaps this preseason?
If you ask Philadelphia Eagles fans, the majority of them will tell you Foles is a “high-variance” player (but he’s always beloved in that city, no matter what). What that means is, depending on the situation, there will be some plays where he is going to absolutely wow you, and there will probably be an equal number of plays that leave something to be desired, and of course, a fair number of plays in between the two extremes. So, that’s what the majority of Jaguars fans are realistically expecting from Foles — high variance. We understand he is a clear upgrade over Blake Bortles, and there is much more confidence now at that position, but we also understand he still has a lot to prove as a full-time starter. Very few of us are expecting him to be the next Tom Brady, but there is definitely reason to be optimistic.
Foles only played in one preseason game — the third game against the Miami Dolphins. He completed six of 10 passes for 48 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He looked true to the “high-variance” form. Starting out the game with a couple of three-and-out drives, then engineering a great touchdown drive, capped off by a beautiful strike in the end zone to Dede Westbrook. He then followed that up with an interception on the next drive, and that was all the action he got in the preseason.
2) What is realistic to expect out of RB Leonard Fournette Sunday after a tough year filled with injuries in 2018?
Fournette really emphasized improving his body in the offseason, and he impressed in training camp. He is supposedly entering the season in the best shape of his life, so there is reason to believe his durability issues are behind him. With that said, I won’t believe it until I see it, and it’s hard to predict injuries. He has missed several games due to injury (or suspension) in both college and the NFL. If he is able to play 14 to 16 games this season, I do expect him to have a bounce-back season, where he approaches around 1,100 yards or 1,200 yards and double digit touchdowns rushing. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo also wants to get Fournette involved in the passing game. So if he can stay healthy, 300 touches or so for Fournette seems pretty realistic in 2019.
3) Jalen Ramsey is expected to follow Tyreek Hill all game. How do you expect the Jaguars to combat the Chiefs’ next-biggest threat, Travis Kelce?
I would expect to see some zone concepts for the Jaguars on defense. Obviously, Kelce is a great talent, and on an already loaded offense, it’s hard to play man-to-man coverage against him. So the Jaguars have a couple of superb athletes who might be able to contain Kelce in rookie weak-side linebacker Quincy Williams (brother of Quinnen Williams of the Jets), and second-year strong safety Ronnie Harrison. Williams has great speed, but that’s going to be a tough task for a rookie in his first game who is coming back from a knee injury. Harrison is a hard-hitter who could look to separate the ball from Kelce’s grasp. Fellow Big Cat Country writer, Filip Prus, talks about the potential matchup here in more detail.
4) Who is the offensive player not named Fournette to watch for the Jaguars on Sunday? Why?
It has to be wide receiver Dede Westbrook. While he can line up all over the field, look for him to line up often in the slot (DeFilippo has favored throwing to the slot in some of his previous stops). He’ll work as Foles’ de facto No. 1 receiver, and is arguably the most talented player on the offense outside of Fournette. If the aforementioned preseason game against the Dolphins is any indication, Foles will target Westbrook early and often. Westbrook caught four catches on six targets (targeted on six of Foles’ 10 throws) for 29 yards and a touchdown against Miami. He is going to be relied upon as a playmaker for an offense seemingly lacking in that department. He is also a former Biletnikoff Trophy winner (the nation’s top receiver) at Oklahoma in 2016.
5) What makes you think that the Jaguars defense can regain the swagger it lost last year?
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Jaguars actually still had a really solid defense in 2018. Jacksonville ranked second in points allowed, second against the pass and fifth in total defense. But there was an obvious difference between the 2017 and 2018 units. The 2017 defense prided itself on big plays — turnovers, sacks and touchdowns — and was able to bail the offense out of bad situations because those things happened so frequently. Last year, the Jaguars severely lacked in those areas. The team had just 37 sacks (22nd in NFL) and mustered only 17 takeaways (tied for 22nd as well). I would expect both of those numbers to improve this year. The Jaguars added Josh Allen in the draft, who fell to them at No. 7 overall. I don’t want to put too much stock into the preseason, but he absolutely wrecked the Miami Dolphins’ No. 1 unit a couple weeks ago. The beauty of it is, Allen has guys like Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell to learn from, and he doesn’t have to be thrusted onto the field on every snap. He has all the makings of a future Pro Bowler, or potentially even All-Pro.
I already mentioned the addition of rookie Quincy Williams, who has turned heads in training camp prior to his injury, as well. The new, young safety duo of Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson will be interesting to watch, as they replaced aging veterans Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. Then, of course, you still have the likes of Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Myles Jack and Marcell Dareus. This defense is absolutely loaded, and I 100 percent believe they’ll be on par with the 2017 defense and could be the best defensive unit in the league this year.
Bonus: Score prediction
I think the Chiefs’ potent offense will be slowed down by the tough defense, heat of Jacksonville and potential harsh playing conditions following the impact of Hurricane Dorian (I hope everyone in Jacksonville remained safe this week). But with that said, one simply does not bet against Patrick Mahomes.
I think the game is close, but Kansas City wins. Chiefs 28, Jaguars 24.